Now That Cryptocurrencies Exist, Game Developers Are No Longer Bound By Regional Sales

I first heard about Ethereum's blockchain technology last year, early 2017--back when Ether was priced at $30 (it's now hovering around ~$900).

The idea behind blockchain technology was interesting to me. The more I read, the more I could imagine a world in which variables were predetermined by participating parties, and acted upon autonomously of human day-to-day involvement. I thought through different use case scenarios, and saw how it could impact music publishing and royalty distribution. I saw the impact it could have on privacy and the analyzation of big data. But if there's one industry I have continued to think hard about in terms of technological disruption, it's gaming--and I am a big believer that cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology will be the catalyst.

The reason I'm so fascinated by use case scenarios for the blockchain in the gaming space is because when I was 17 years old, I was one of the highest ranked World of Warcraft players in North America.

I also had one of the first e-famous gaming blogs on the Internet, way back in 2007 before blogging was considered "cool." I was part of an elite group of gamers that essentially pioneered the booming eSports industry we know today, specifically within the World of Warcraft.

Back when I was a gamer, the concept of earning a living as a professional gamer was nothing more than a far and distant dream. Today, the eSports industry is valued at about $700 million, with an anticipated value of $1.5 billion by 2020, according to Business Insider. This has created an onslaught of smaller niche industries within professional gaming, covering everything from branded sponsorships to influencer marketing and beyond. It's not unheard of for a teenager to make six, or even seven figures as a professional gamer, streamer, and/or YouTuber. A decade ago (when my dream was to become a pro gamer), none of that existed.

When Inc Magazine named Riot Games Company of the Year in 2016, that's when I knew we'd turned a corner. The eSports industry had officially gone mainstream, and was finally starting to solidify itself in the broader business world.

But eSports is just one chapter in a much larger story.

When you start to look at the gaming industry as a whole, and the role eSports has played in its evolution and mainstream adoption, what you'll find is a breadth of opportunity for entrepreneurial disruption. There are so many more niches under the umbrella of "gaming" that it wouldn't be fair to call eSports and professional gaming the focal point.

With blockchain technology stepping onto the scene, we're now discovering so many other sub-niches where gamers, developers, fans, advertisers, and both hardware and software companies can push the boundary. Sticking with eSports for a moment, the followership surrounding games like League of Legends, Hearthstone, World of Warcraft, and more, rivals that of mainstream sports like football--and subsequently, platforms like DraftKings. Seeing this trend, Mark Cuban got behind Unikrn, a blockchain platform that allows users to bet on eSports matches in the same way.

Another example of how blockchain technology is disrupting the gaming space is in making use of idle hardware and computing power, with a platform by Aura called GammaNow. If you're a gamer, you probably have a well-built rig. Why not get rewarded for the hours you aren't actively using it? According to VentureBeat, "PC gamers lend their idle computing power in exchange for rewards such as in-game credits, skins, hardware discounts, meet and greets with game celebrities, and eSports tickets." These GammaPoints can then be used to unlock rewards in popular games like Overwatch, Hearthstone, and League of Legends.

If you're a gamer, this is an obvious quick win. (And besides, every gamer loves finding more ways to rack up digital rewards.)

But the value of cryptocurrencies isn't just incentivizing players inside games--but developers to make them in the first place.

One of the core challenges game developers face is in the distribution of the games they build.

It's a fragmented market. While game developers might be savvy enough to build the games themselves, being  paid for the games they build is another issue entirely--especially when you're a consumer in one country looking to purchase a game developed in another.

One of the primary value adds cryptocurrencies have in society is their ability to improve transactions around the world--by removing the need for centralized banks. On a macro, economical level, the benefits of this are fairly obvious. But from a micro, even niche level, such as in terms of gaming, that is an entire industry in itself.

For example, Unity Technologies is responsible for providing the underlying code of some of  the most popular games in the world--including the viral sensation Pokemon GO, and other hits like Hearthstone and Angry Birds 2. According to Variety, "2.4 billion mobile devices currently have games installed that have been built with Unity, and the company saw some 5 billion downloads of Unity-powered games in Q3 of 2016 alone."

Unity recently partnered with blockchain platform Cloud Moolah to provide payment and publishing solutions to game developers, specifically in Asia--which means incentivizing (and being able to more effectively pay) game developers to tokenize both game and in-game purchases.

To put it simply: if the gaming industry as a whole is already growing at an exponential rate, then reducing some of these points of friction by allowing purchases through tokens will turn this industry into a rocket ship.

If you're not a gamer, it's easy to think some of these speculations are "far off," but as a gamer they make complete and total logical sense. Most people don't know that just about every MMORPG with a functioning in-game currency already operates in a similar fashion. There are websites right now where you can purchase in-game World of Warcraft gold for fiat--and it's been that way for decades.

The fact that we have a language now to that transaction process is not only exciting, but disruptive.

Cryptocurrencies are going to catapult the gaming industry forward.

We Need To Stop Looking For Silver Bullets To Solve Our Problems

In Eric Ries bestselling book, The Startup Way, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur explains how he helped lead General Electric's transformation from a stodgy industrial era dinosaur into a lean, entrepreneurial enterprise. Yet strangely, as Steve Blank points out in Harvard Business Review, the effort ended up with the ousting of GE's CEO for underperformance.

Why did such a seemingly promising initiative turn out to be such a tragic failure? To be honest, I have no idea. Maybe the cultural strain of "lean startup" thinking caused the company to take its eye off the ball. Or maybe it was simply a matter of short-term thinking by activist investors. Or maybe something else entirely.

On a deeper level, running a significant enterprise is incredibly complex and, to be successful, a lot of things need to go right. There are no silver bullets. Unfortunately, that doesn't stop pundits and consultants from offering them. As Blank also points out in his article, Ries's ideas weren't the problem at GE, but neither did they address what apparently were serious issues.

Would You Rather Be Apple Or Microsoft?

Until a few years ago, Apple was the unquestioned leader in tech. A decade earlier, Microsoft reigned supreme and Apple was near bankruptcy. Now Microsoft is on an upswing and some believe that it will be the first company to achieve a trillion dollar valuation. So whose path should you follow?

More specifically, Apple and Microsoft have very different longstanding philosophies. Apple takes a distinctly integrated approach, taking control of every aspect of its products. Microsoft, on the other hand, has a more modular ethos, collaborating with other firms to deliver an entire system. Steve Jobs himself noted this difference shortly before he passed away:

"You know, because Woz and I started the company based on doing the whole banana, we weren't so good at partnering with people. And, you know, actually, the funny thing is, Microsoft's one of the few companies we were able to partner with that actually worked for both companies. And we weren't so good at that, where Bill and Microsoft were really good at it because they didn't make the whole thing in the early days and they learned how to partner with people really well."

Both approaches have their advantages. Integrated strategies tend to work better earlier in technology cycles, when taking total control reduces the variation that leads to bugs and glitches. It can also speed time to market. Modular strategies work better later in the cycle, when technologies are more mature, better understood and can be connected more dependably.

Interestingly, some of the biggest successes have happened when each company strayed from their core strategies. Steve Jobs was dead set against allowing third-party apps in the App Store at first, but then relented. More recently, Microsoft took a more integrated approach with its surface tablet. No strategy fits every problem.

Profit From The Core or Seek Out Blue Oceans?

In 2001 Bain consultants Chris Zook and James Allen published their book, Profit from the Core, which argued that firms who focus on their core business significantly outperform those who stray. It immediately gained a large following and led to two follow-up books as well as a large consulting practice based on its principles.

In 2005 W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, both distinguished professors at INSEAD, published Blue Ocean Strategy, which was even a bigger hit. It argued that the best strategy is to create entirely new markets in "blue oceans" rather than fighting it out in "red oceans" with rabid productivity. A sequel, Blue Ocean Shift, was published with great acclaim in 2017.

Clearly, both these things cannot be true and when you look a little closer both books have serious problems. Blue Ocean Strategy falls prey to survivorship bias by not accounting for the cost of failures. Focusing on your "core" may seem simple, but can be defined as core markets, core capabilities and other "core" things. The authors themselves seem confused, praising Enron but bashing Amazon for "straying from its core."

Google follows the 70-20-10 rule, investing 70% of its resources in its core business, 20% in adjacencies and 10% in "blue oceans," which seems far more sensible. Nevertheless, in my conversations with the company, it was clear that even this diversified approach is used more like a rule of thumb than an absolute principle.

Design Thinking Or The Innovator's Dilemma?

One of the most powerful ideas in business today is design thinking developed largely by David Kelley, founder of the design firm IDEO. Steve Jobs swore by it and it played an important role in his success at Apple. Stanford University was so taken by design thinking that it devoted an entire school to teaching its precepts.

What makes design thinking so effective is its relentless focus on the needs of the end user. Instead of starting with a laundry list of features to be developed, it trains people to investigate the needs of the end user and then work to define a solution. Designers develop products through a series of prototypes, continuously improving and refining them through testing.

That all makes a lot of sense until you read Clayton Christensen's classic The Innovator's Dilemma, in which he argues that good companies fail by listening too much to their customers. They end up improving on outdated metrics, miss important shifts in the basis of competition and get disrupted by a new class of competitors.

Much like focusing on your "core" and seeking out "blue oceans," we are confronted with two contradictory ideas, both of which seem to make sense. As I point out in my book, Mapping Innovation, the issue isn't that one is right and one is wrong, but that different types of problems require different types of solutions and we always need to understand the problem first.

The Problem With Patterns

Pundits and strategy entrepreneurs follow a standard practice. They identify a pattern, validate that it can be repeated and then sell it as a general principle, complete with snazzy charts and graphs. The problem with patterns is that the real world is a messy place and doesn't succumb to neat, tidy order just because we want it to. No amount of curation or simplification will change that basic fact.

The truth is that patterns can never be validated backward, only forward, because we can never be sure what comes next. In fact, there is an entire branch of mathematics dedicated to identifying when distinct patterns arise from random points, so we cannot even be sure that the pattern we think we are seeing even exists at all.

The ugly little secret of business strategy is that you need to make your best guess in an uncertain context, manage resources wisely and see what works. You will make mistakes and have to fix them. The very term "leadership" implies that you are out ahead, marching boldly into new territory, with others following. There is no silver bullet that can hit an unknown target.

Or, as Mark Twain put it, "All generalizations are false, including this one."

Build A Loyal Audience Through Content and the “Watering Hole Advantage”

Unless you pay close attention in "The Lion King" or watch the "Planet Earth" series, you probably haven't spent a lot of time thinking about watering holes. (Trust me, if it weren't for my two young daughters, I probably wouldn't know half as much about animals and their lives, cartoon or otherwise.)

Watering holes attract animals from all over that are looking for the things they need to survive. Even in times of drought, when it doesn't seem like any water is attainable, elephants, for example, are able to recall where reliable sources are. They trust those sources as places to go to get what they need.

Now, I'm not calling audiences elephants, but I'm willing to bet that, like elephants, the members of your audience also know where to go to get what they need. They're turning to the brands that consistently deliver the high-quality, engaging content and resources they're looking for. Those brands have mastered one of the biggest content trends in 2018: the watering hole advantage.

3 Steps to Achieve the Watering Hole Advantage and Build a Loyal Audience

The watering hole advantage is the advantage you earn when your brand is where your audience routinely goes to meet its needs.

For a brand with its sights set on the long term, there's almost nothing more valuable than becoming the go-to resource in your industry, the brand that members of your audience consistently look to for information, insights, and expertise. That top-of-mind positioning is incredibly valuable, and it's what the watering hole advantage is all about.

Here are three ways to use your content to help you become the that resource in your space and build a loyal audience that consistently comes back for more:

1. Do everything you can to provide real value to your audience, not just try to make a sale.

Becoming a resource your audience trusts and regularly turns to for information means that you have to actually deliver that information. You can't be so focused on promoting yourself and making a sale that you don't give audiences what they're seeking. That's not going to help you earn trust with anyone, let alone transform your brand into the authority in your space.

Instead of overtly (or even subtly) pushing your audience members to buy from you or become clients, do what you can to help them educate themselves and make the decisions that are right for them. Help others and focus on meeting their needs; that's how you'll get people in your audience to return for more.

2. Build out your owned media assets.

The only way that visitors turn into loyal audience members and subscribers is if you give them the chance to do so. That's what owned assets can do.

Yes, earned, owned, and paid media each play an important role in engaging an audience. I'd be one of the last people out there to argue otherwise. Still, to attain that watering hole advantage, you have to have a watering hole in the first place -- and that means building out your owned assets.

If you want your brand to become the go-to for insights, then develop ways--that you control--of providing those insights. These include your website, the articles and guides on your blog, your various social channels, and the email newsletters and campaigns you deliver.

3. Make consistent content creation and distribution a priority.

Your content strategy must have consistency if it's going to help you become top of mind with your audience. Consistency is key. No one is going to want to come back to you if the last piece of relevant content you produced is three years old. On the flip side, if you've been creating lots of great content consistently, you can't just sit back and expect your audience to gather 'round.

To build a community that trusts you for insights, it's your job to consistently create and distribute relevant, high-quality content to the members of your audience. They want fresh content, and they have to know when you've produced it. So, design a process for developing content and execute a distribution strategy that gets that content in front of the right people.

Being the watering hole your audience goes to isn't an unattainable goal (and it's not just an allegory about elephants). By focusing on providing value, ramping up your owned media, and committing to consistency, your audience will always be able to trust that it can turn to you to meet its needs.

A Well-Known Airline Told a Woman Her Luggage Would Never Be Found (It Turned Up 3 Months Later)

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

What goes on inside the airline world is likely more fascinating than anything onlookers see.

Which is why the plight of Marion Johnson moves me.

She was flying on budget airline EasyJet from Bristol in England's West, to Porto, a place that has much finer port than does Bristol.

It seems that her luggage didn't fly with her.

Yes, she'd checked it in. It simply never arrived.

Johnson was distraught. Principally, because no one could tell her with certainty where her luggage was.

These days, computer systems have made it easier for luggage to be tracked. 

Somehow, Johnson's luggage seemed to have rebelled against the system, grown sprightly limbs and wings and disappeared.

Indeed, she told the Bristol Post that EasyJet described her luggage as "irretrievable."

How might an airline conclude that luggage was lost for ever? Could it have been spotted flying over Europe, carried by a flock of geese to a sanctuary somewhere near Corfu? 

What about the airport? Johnson said it seemed to have had no idea either and didn't even return her calls.

Please imagine, then, Johnson's deeper emotions more than three months later when her luggage suddenly arrived back at her house. 

"I was furious," she said. "To wait three and a half months and then to be told that my luggage had been stuck in Lost and Found all this time."

The airline had hired a company called First Flight Forwarders to trace it. It insisted that the luggage has been in the airport's Lost and Found all along? 

Was someone, perhaps, responsible for its extended, if stationary, absence?

I contacted the airport to ask why Johnson's luggage had been at the airport Lost and Found for such an extended period.

I got a fascinating response.

"It wasn't," an airport spokesman told me. "We have investigated this complaint and there is no evidence that this bag was ever in our Lost Property facility."

Ah.

So what might have happened and who might have been responsible?

"Baggage handling is the responsibility of airlines and their contracted ground handlers, not airports," said the airport spokesman.

What could I do but contact EasyJet? The sense of mystery only deepened.

A spokeswoman for the airline began by telling me how good the airline is at not losing luggage.

"EasyJet flies on average over 1500 flights per day across more than 30 countries and incidents of damaged luggage are extremely low. World Tracer, the independent body used by the industry for luggage tracking, shows EasyJet to be one of the best in the industry, with the incidences of delayed luggage at less than 0.5 per 1000 customers."

Can we call more than three months a delay?

Or does it seem more like an incarceration?

Still, EasyJet decided to compensate Johnson.

A spokeswoman told me: "EasyJet has apologized to Mrs. Johnson for the delay she experienced in being reunited with her bag," 

There's that delay word again. Johnson, a retired realtor, said she spent 350 Euros on essentials she had to replace while in Porto.

"We have already reimbursed the cost of her hold luggage and have been in touch with the customer to reimburse all remaining expenses," said EasyJet's spokeswoman with a touch of nobility.

But, forgive me for asking again, what actually happened to the luggage? Where had it been and why?

In this miasma of doubt, it seems that we have to invent things the luggage did. 

It went to luggage parties in the airport at the dead of night, where the bags get together for rocking and rolling. 

It went into the Luggage Confidential support group to sit with fellow pieces of luggage that had been mistreated by airport handlers and wanted to tell their stories. 

It sat in a corner, its tag perfectly begging to be addressed, shouting: "Oy. Oy. What about me?"

And no one listened.

This Is How United Airlines Is Teaching Employees To Be More Caring (Are You Ready For This?) @ChrisMatyszczyk

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Large organizations don't move quickly.

They don't notice problems quickly. They don't address them quickly. And they don't change attitudes quickly.

After last year's painful experience following the sight of a paying passengers being dragged bloodied down the aisle by United-inspired law enforcement, the airline seemed stunned at the effects on its image.

So it set about trying to change things. It promised a new commitment to customers.

It promised to offer such decencies as treating passengers "fairly and consistently in the case of oversales."

There was also the somewhat basic "notify customers of known delays, cancellations and diversions."

And even the breakthrough "ensure responsiveness to customer complaints."

That was almost a year ago.

Only now, though, are the everyday employees being given training as to how to enact the airline's new attitude.

Last month, supervisors were offered a glimpse into what the airline was expecting and trained into how to begin delivering it. 

In one word, the airline wants employees to show they "care."

Some might muse that another way of describing this is for employees to exercise "common sense in dealing with human beings."

Still, what the airline dubs its Core4 training is now being extended to the people you encounter the most -- the everyday employees you see on the plane, at the check-in counter, the gate and the bar (banging their heads against a large beer).

The Chicago Business Journal describes how the training has been received at LAX, where the airline is expanding its sphere of influence.

As the airline promised, it's trying to get employees to think less about rigid rules and more about what would satisfy the customer's needs at any given moment -- without the airline losing anything at all.

Other than its reputation for, well, imperfect customer service.

What moved me, though, was a quote from Les Bailey, a United employee, who had just gone through the four-hour training.

"What I walked away with was the emphasis that we're all in this together and regardless of our day-to-day job titles, we depend on one another to be successful. At the end of the day it's about being empathetic and caring toward each other and our customers," he said.

The question that might force itself into one or two minds is: What on earth was it like to work at United before?

Was it really a place where people didn't think they were in this together? Was it a place where job title dictated all?

Was it really a place where no one could depend on anyone else to be successful? 

Is it really such a surprise that thinking about your fellow team-members and your customers is what makes for better customer service and, some would argue, a better airline?

How might a company allow itself to slip into such bad habits? By focusing solely on revenue, perhaps?

Still, one can't help worrying that what United might give with one hand, it will take away with a sly finger or two.

As it tries to be more caring, it's also shoving more seats onto planes.

As it tries to embrace empathy, it's trying -- along with other airlines -- to get the Department of Transportation to remove regulations such as the 24-hour grace period during which you can get a full refund on a ticket.

What's most important, of course, is whether passengers feel any difference. 

In the coming weeks and months, then, these new attitudes should become a pleasant surprise to passengers.

I wonder how clear they will be.

The big picture: London Fashion Week, February 1998

With the 2018 event now in full swing, we revisit a telling Martin Parr shot from 20 years ago

British Fashion Week, February 1998






Photograph: Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

Martin Parr is the kind of quick-witted photographer who catches life on the run, his shutter clicking faster than the human eye can blink. To coincide with London Fashion Week, which began last Friday, here is a deft act of espionage from backstage at the same event 20 years ago. Parr probably didn’t know what he’d snatched until he developed the film and saw that the flustered accidents of a moment had come to rest in a parable, showing how the beauty industry goes about its tortuous, tormenting work.

Makeup has already transformed the model into a doll: the waxen complexion, with a sickly jaundiced tone around the eyes, and the pursed, painted lips that are smaller and more infantile than her own. Now the hairdressers take over, knotting and coiling and pinning and teasing, with a can of eco-unfriendly aerosol spray ready to freeze her mane. They are technicians, busy on the assembly line; she is their manufactured product, as glassy-eyed as the lens of Parr’s camera.

What makes the photograph so piercing is the intrusion of that grasping, prehensile hand, ready to do some stern manipulating if the subject doesn’t consent to being reduced to an object. This detail makes the scene faintly scary: the bride of Frankenstein is being prepared for exposure to a battery of cameras on the catwalk, and at the end of all this cosmetic primping she will be a blank-faced, strutting mannequin. That’s what fashion does: it refashions our bodies, and turns human beings into dress dummies.

The big picture: London Fashion Week, February 1998

With the 2018 event now in full swing, we revisit a telling Martin Parr shot from 20 years ago

British Fashion Week, February 1998






Photograph: Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

Martin Parr is the kind of quick-witted photographer who catches life on the run, his shutter clicking faster than the human eye can blink. To coincide with London Fashion Week, which began last Friday, here is a deft act of espionage from backstage at the same event 20 years ago. Parr probably didn’t know what he’d snatched until he developed the film and saw that the flustered accidents of a moment had come to rest in a parable, showing how the beauty industry goes about its tortuous, tormenting work.

Makeup has already transformed the model into a doll: the waxen complexion, with a sickly jaundiced tone around the eyes, and the pursed, painted lips that are smaller and more infantile than her own. Now the hairdressers take over, knotting and coiling and pinning and teasing, with a can of eco-unfriendly aerosol spray ready to freeze her mane. They are technicians, busy on the assembly line; she is their manufactured product, as glassy-eyed as the lens of Parr’s camera.

What makes the photograph so piercing is the intrusion of that grasping, prehensile hand, ready to do some stern manipulating if the subject doesn’t consent to being reduced to an object. This detail makes the scene faintly scary: the bride of Frankenstein is being prepared for exposure to a battery of cameras on the catwalk, and at the end of all this cosmetic primping she will be a blank-faced, strutting mannequin. That’s what fashion does: it refashions our bodies, and turns human beings into dress dummies.